Thomas Pluck Interview
Thomas Pluck is the author of HOT RED HEART, BLADE OF DISHONOR, GET PLUCKED, OUR LADY OF VENGEANCE: 13 DISHES SERVES COLD among others.
In addition to writing, Pluck tirelessly advocates for Protect, the National Association to Protect Children. His most recent project, PROTECTORS 2: HEROES an anthology of 55 stories benefits their work aiding children from physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.
Tim Hennessy: This is the second anthology you’ve put together for the National Association to Protect Children. What can you tell us about Protect and how did you get involved with them?
Thomas Pluck: Protect is a bipartisan political PAC that makes its sole mission to lobby for legislation that protects children from physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. Our work includes the HERO Child-Rescue Corps, which hires wounded veterans to assist local and federal law enforcement in hunting online predators and rescuing their victims, funding Internet Crimes Against Children task forces across the country, the Sunlight Project, which demands accountability from judges who repeatedly give lenient sentences to rapists and abusers, and the Circle of Trust Act, which closed the infamous “incest loophole,” which treated predators who rape their own children as a “counseling issue” instead of a crime. I joined Protect in 2010 as a member and edited the first Protectors anthology in 2012, as a way to raise more for the cause.
TH: Did you run into any challenges putting together the collection? What did you learn from putting together the first collection that you wanted to do differently?
TP: The challenge this time was when to stop! Once so many authors responded, my first instinct was to split this into two anthologies, to publish a year apart. But as the work mounted, I remembered why it’s been 3 years since the first anthology. So I decided to make one huge book, in case there are no more. What I learned from the first book is that editing forty other writers will make you need glasses. Lots of respect for editors. I don’t know how the editors who do monthly magazines keep up.
TH: The anthology is a hearty 600 pages with contributions from well known heavy hitters like Joe Lansdale, Joyce Carol Oates, Harlan Ellison among others as well a who’s who of upcoming talent. How did you go about getting submissions? How daunting was it approaching well-established writers to get involved?
TP: Writers, even those with curmudgeonly reputations like Harlan Ellison, respond positively to polite and respectful professionalism. With a cause like Protect, it’s easy to get people to say yes. The first book made a little splash, Dave White’s story was chosen as a Distinguished Mystery of 2012 in The Best American Mystery Stories. But here’s my advice to any budding anthologists: Find the author’s email or written contact information (everyone you mentioned has their contact info or forms online, even Harlan, who still uses a manual typewriter for correspondence). There’s no need to kowtow or grovel, or start with “I know you’re busy, but…” Just ask, in a brief email, worded like a pitch or query letter, and avoid bullshit and don’t gush. “I admire and respect your work” is a lot better than “OMG you’re awesome I love everything you’ve ever done!” The worst thing that will happen is you’ll get no response. Or you’ll go back and forth with their agents, and learn that every story you want has the rights tied up.
I’ll admit, Harlan and I have a history going back to when I was in high school, so that made it easier. I wrote him a letter back then, and his response was a minor internet sensation, when Letters of Note picked it up. So I wrote him again, and I even suggested the story. The easier you make it, the more likely you are to get a response. Often, writers are too busy to write an original, but they will gladly offer a reprint if they have the rights. Laird Barron wrote an original, so did Hilary Davidson and Linda Rodriguez; Joelle Charbonneau had a story about cyber-bullying that was unpublished, it’s raw and painful, and perfect for the book. There were plenty who declined, could not make deadline, or had stories that were not a good fit. That’s just how it is. To quote contributor Wayne Dundee—the creator of Hardboiled Magazine—“You persevere.”
TH: Were there any parameters that you established to maintain a tone to the anthology?
TP: Yes, I asked for lighter stories this time. The first book is a great collection, but it leans more toward the dark. Nothing against noir—I write it, read it, and Protectors 2 has its share–but too much of it becomes oppressive, and I wanted to have more range in this one. We’ve got noir, but also westerns, a fantasy, humorous tales; gritty cyberpunk and space opera, crime stories as tough as they come, horror both Lovecraftian and bizarrely whimsical. That made my job easier, arranging stories so its more like a song than an eclectic mess. They alternate in tone, but I worked hard to make it gradual, so there aren’t any jarring interludes. This obviously isn’t a book that will be read in one sitting. Some readers jump around, but I’m a little neurotic, I always read them in order. So if you do that, there’s a reward.
TH: Since the contributors come from a wide range of genres and backgrounds, what has the response been you’ve gotten so far?
TP: Very positive. There are a lot of strong voices in here, and I won’t say the stories “transcend genre” because I hate that, but what they do is have a common thread of humanity that anyone can relate to, whether it’s set in Prohibition-era gangster land, or in a ’60s housing project, a hardscrabble mining planet, in the Delta after Katrina, in the Ripper’s Whitechapel, or in a New York bar.
TH: If people would like to pick up a copy Protectors 2 or donate, where should they go?
The book is available to order from any bookstore through Ingram’s catalog, and can be purchased online through the usual suspects. It is on the shelf at the Mysterious Bookshop. We have e-book and paperback deals at the book’s website, www.protectorsbooks.org and that generates the biggest donation to Protect, as it cuts out the middleman. You can learn more about Protect at www.protect.org and donate directly there.